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CAINE MUTINY, THE (director: Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters: from the novel by Herman Wouk/Stanley Roberts/Michael Blankfort; cinematographer: Frank Planer; editors: Henry Batista/William A. Lyon; music: Max Steiner; cast: Humphrey Bogart (Capt. Francis Philip Queeg), José Ferrer (Lt. Barney Greenwald), Van Johnson (Lt. Steve Maryk), Fred MacMurray (Lt. Tom Keefer), Robert Francis (Ensign Willie Keith), May Wynn (May Wynn), Tom Tully (Capt. DeVriess), E. G. Marshall (Lt. Cmdr. Challee), Lee Marvin (Meatball), Lieut. Paynter (Arthur Franz), Captain Blakely (Warner Andersen); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Stanley Kramer; Columbia Pictures; 1954)
“A tired looking Bogey gives a sound but tired performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Edward Dmytryk (“Eight Iron Men”/”The Left Hand of God”/”The Reluctant Saint”) directs the famous naval courtroom drama that’s based on the 1951 Pulitize Prize-winning bestseller novel by Herman Wouk. Stanley Roberts turns in the screenplay after Wouk was fired by the producer, Stanley Kramer, for turning in an unsatisfactory one (probably bored, he tried to make it a comedy this time around). Roberts also quit when his script, calling for a film of over two hours, was ordered edited by studio boss Harry Cohn. The boss called in Michael Blankfort to get it in around the two hour mark so the theaters could have an extra showing and the studio could get back their money invested sooner. It was still Roberts’s script, but with great chunks of it cut. The film was made on a budget of two million dollars and reportedly turned in a profit of 35 million dollars, and came in on schedule when filmed at 54 days.

The drama concerns the growing conflicts among the officers and crew of an aging Navy destroyer—minesweeper in the Pacific in World War II—which lead to the subsequent court-martial trial of the ship’s captain. Films such as Mutiny on the Bounty, The Sea Wolf, and Billy Budd also covered the same theme. It was previously made into a Broadway play starring Lloyd Nolan as Captain Queeg and Henry Fonda as Lt. Keefer. Humphrey Bogart plays the twitchy mentally-disturbed Captain Queeg (a man who cracks up while hiding an inferiority, is obsessed about the theft of frozen strawberries and has the nervous habit of continually rolling steel balls in his hand) in his last major role before his death three years later. The Navy Department initially balked at cooperating with the filming over the use of the word ‘mutiny’ in the film’s title. After minor concessions were made, the Navy fully cooperated with Columbia Pictures and gave them access to Pearl Harbor and the San Francisco port. The film opens with the disclaimer that there has never been a mutiny in the United States Navy.

The Caine Mutiny centers around the bright-eyed new Ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis), an idealistic 1941 Princeton-graduate. Keith is assigned in 1943 to the destroyer-minesweeper U.S.S. Caine and it’s through his eyes that the story is told. Keith has a bumpy relationship with his lax skipper, Lt. Comdr. DeVries (Tom Tully), partly through his own inexperience and as a result of his disapproval of DeVries’ slovenly way of running the ship. DeVries retires and the new captain, a hard-nosed, no-nonsense veteran officer named Lt. Comdr. Philip Francis Queeg, greatly pleases Keith. Out at sea, Lt. Keefer (Fred MacMurray), the novelist in civilian life and glib communications officer, is the first to notice the captain’s behavior is irrational. After a series of incidents Queeg displays a hot temper, neurotic tendencies and a spell of cowardice. Lt. Steve Maryk (Van Johnson), the first officer, refuses to believe Keefer when he states that the captain may be mentally unbalanced. But when Queeg orders the ship turned upside down over stolen strawberries, he begins to have doubts about the captain. Things come to a head during a typhoon, as Queeg’s panic and inability to deal with the situation forces the executive officer Maryk to assume command, with Keith’s support as officer-of-the-deck. Queeg will use this incident, when he cowered in his duty, to bring the two mutineer officers under him to a court martial. It all builds to the courtroom dramatics that’s decently done but is too stodgy to be riveting. Greenwald (Jose Ferrer), a pilot and lawyer in civilian life, reluctantly agrees to be the lawyer for Maryk and Keith. During the trial the officers display their inexperience, but the lawyer wins the day when he gets Queeg to crack on the stand. Keefer, the one who egged on the others to mutiny, becomes the villain when at the trial he backtracks and gives a gutless testimony that gets him off the hook as the instigator.

The film had several things going against it: the new script chopped too much out of the novel to fully get at the characterizations, a tired looking Bogey gives a sound but tired performance and the drama is compromised by the extraneous love affair between Keith and the night club singer played by May Wynn. Their scenes were not needed and the time could have been better used to explore further the characters on the Caine. Of note, future star Lee Marvin has an amusing minor comic relief role as a gob slob named Meatball.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”